Thursday, April 27, 2006

And Now for Some Good Research

After exposing you to some really bad research, I felt a rather intense pang of conscience, and decided I should at least mention some good research. It just so happens that I read about some this morning. It's a pretty easy read, so instead of writing a long post about it, I'll just link you to it, and give you the abstract:
Does geometry constitute a core set of intuitions present in all humans, regardless of their language or schooling? We used two nonverbal tests to probe the conceptual primitives of geometry in the Mundurukú, an isolated Amazonian indigene group. Mundurukú children and adults spontaneously made use of basic geometric concepts such as points, lines, parallelism, or right angles to detect intruders in simple pictures, and they used distance, angle, and sense relationships in geometrical maps to locate hidden objects. Our results provide evidence for geometrical intuitions in the absence of schooling, experience with graphic symbols or maps, or a rich language of geometrical terms.
I figure math people, and those interested in cross-cultural research, will find this interesting. Unfortunately, the paper contains no cute pictures of monkeys playing with toys, though.


MathCogIdiocy said...

I'll have to read the paper, but this makes perfect sense to me. Historically, geometry is the first and oldest of the mathematical disciplines.

Since I spent this afternoon meeting with the professor over-seeing my honors project and the possible significance of geometry-first to the development/evolution of math cognition was the topic of the day, I believe you've just handed me an unintended gift. :-)

Tim said...

Without having clicked the link, I'm willing to bet that one of their opening paragraphs starts with Plato's Meno...

Chris said...

Ha! Wrong, it opens with Poincaré from La Science et l'hypothèse:

Through natural selection, our mind has adapted to the conditions of the external world, [...[ it has adopted the geometry most advantageous to our species; or, in other words, the most convenient.

MathCogIdiocy said...

This is an informal "thank you" for the link to this paper. The study and results dovetailed quite nicely into the ever growing honors paper. I'd reached a point where I had to stop reading/researching and start writing so this study was missed.

The study backs up my intuitive position that basic Euclidean geometry is innate or at least in place fairly early in childhood - in the same sense that number sense and numerosity are. It will be interesting to see if any researchers pick up the open areas referred to at the end - whether this core knowledge is shared with other species, availability in infancy or something acquired during the first years of life. Given the opportunity, I'd enjoy doing research into the last.

Chris said...

Math, you're an undergrad? If you're interested, I know some people who might be interested in doing the developmental work with infants.

MathCogIdiocy said...

Chris, yes I'm an undergrad and starting to look at graduate programs (not that there are many relating to math cognition). At any rate if you know people interested in the developmental work, that would be really cool.

I shall now return to the mini-review for tomorrow's brain dump.

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